The Greatest SCIENCE Cover of All Time

I recently went through the archives of SCIENCE magazine and critiqued the art therein.

SCIENCE covers in the 1880’s were spartan. The only decoration is a seal with a caduceus.Throughout the early 1900’s covers are essentially SEAR’s catalog pages advertising microscopes, bottles, and artificial limbs.? The images from this era are difficult to evaluate based on their low quality. Some are probably worth digitally restoring in the long run for posterity.

After WWI, February and November issues from 1919 get ambitious with symbolism and contrast… I can’t discern what they say. These could be significant in the timeline. Who made these decisions to deviate? Who designed these covers? These are landmarks because they are unique.

I conjecture the rebel deviant from 1919 has returned here in 1924. Obviously the artist was a feminist even in the 1920’s! Or is it sexism because the woman is a nurse? Tim Hunt would fall in love with this science babe. #DistractinglySexy #JoinNow!

The late 1920’s and early 1930’s see an evolution in the microscope imagery. SCIENCE no longer hides their blatant corporatism; selling at every turn for the evil microscope industry. Artistically they move even further into realism adding shadows which appear darkly ominous. The artists are subliminally telling us that the microscopes and science are bad somehow. This evolution culminates with the greatest SCIENCE cover to date in 1936 (above; far right). The image is a Marxist rebellion against the corporatism. It features an assembly line of microscopes boldly proclaiming that science has now become a capitalistic enterprise where the scientists themselves are cogs alienated from their discoveries. Science is no longer an avant-garde (albeit Bourgeois)  hobby for artists and bohemians seeking truth. The industrial revolution has turned science into a simple means of obtaining sustenance; a rote industrial job. Scientists today will feel the power of this cover.

What the hell is this? -May 1936After WWII, SCIENCE magazine spends the decade attempting to correct the capitalization of science by highlighting the workers. 1948 sees the introduction of color. Even women make the covers! With that said, these covers are absolutely terrible… Portraiture rarely, if ever, ascends to the level of art. Select skilled artists can accomplish this feat, not SCIENCE magazine.The 1960’s see three artistic camps emerge. There is the minimalist photography camp.

There is the abstract minimalists camp.

And there is the what the fuck is going on here camp.

These themes are continued in the 1970’s

More of the same in 1980’s

and more abstract minimalism in the 1990’s, but now its neon…

and more abstract minimalism in the 2000’s, but now its digital.

In 2014 Mark Smith releases the greatest SCIENCE cover since the 1930’s. It visually breaks the repetitive themes of the last 40 years and interestingly brings the reader back to the 1930’s image of the assembly line microscope criticizing corporatism in science. The original critique, now more relevant than ever, has re-emerged. Science is a solitary endeavor separating ones work from one’s accomplishments. Scientists are actually lonely people in an endless struggle for money.  The image is desperately grim. But on the surface we pretend to be happy and continue the system. These are the two greatest science covers of all time.

Honorable mention:

This is personally my favorite Science cover of all time. Science is a gamble. Everything we do is a calculated bet. Most of the time the house wins. Every once in a while, we hit enough to keep the cards coming.


Conclusions and Caveats:

1. Non-abstract, Non-minimalist art makes scientists nervious. The covers that break this mold are the most stinging criticisms.

2. The SCIENCE magazine art department is garbage and has never been that great.

3. Much of these SCIENCE covers are photographs; Photography is rarely art. There is a difference between photography that rises above its subject (art) and photography that is merely an image of an object or setting.

4. Art is not scientific, it is subjective; my opinions are my own and may not be shared.


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